The problem of accumulating mountains of plastic garbage around the world today is the result of years of unthinking human behavior. In the beginning, plastics were hailed as new material for wrapping, packaging, retailing,and preserving goods of all kinds – food, medicine, drinks, common household goods. They replaced paper, cloth, leather, wood, and other natural materials. They were easily manufactured and the supply was inexhaustible.
Paper, wood, cloth, and other natural materials are such that they decay and return to the earth to become new plants which, in turn, become food for animals. In time, the animals too return to the earth, to become parts of new plants and animals.
But not plastics. This human invention does not follow the natural order of decaying after certain periods of time. This makes them useful for keeping food and drinks, medicine and other human needs for long periods of time. They are so good at this that, according to scientific studies, they can last for over 450 years. Thus the plastics created decades ago remain as they are to this day, undiminished in substance or shape. And they are turning into mountains of garbage on land and sea.
The world’s oceans are said to be filling up with plastics of all kinds – bottles and bottle caps, wrappers and bags, plastic spoons and forks, stirrers and straws, sachets for selling medicine tablets, cigarette stubs . And the Philippines is the world’s No. 3 source of plastic garbage today, next to China and Indonesia.
The world’s foremost users of plastics to sell their products — mostly food and medicine – have awakened to the irresponsibillty and have pledged to stop using plastics by a certain year . Restaurants around the world have stopped the use of single-use plastics such as straws, knives, and forks.
Last week, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte announced the approval of Ordinance 2876 banning the use of all kinds of disposable plastics in the city’s restaurants and grocery stores. The city government has decided to do its part to solve the plastics problem. If all the other local governments in the country and around the world and all individuals and families similarly do their part, the mountains of plastic garbage around the world would stop rising.
Scientists could then take over and devise ways to break down the plastics already dumped around the world. And they could invent biodegradable plastics – looking like the same kind of useful wrappers and bags and knives and forks, but with a big difference – they would be like wood and paper and leather that would disintegrate in time and become part of the natural order of things.
That may well be off far into the future. We need more local governments like Quezon City, more food and medicine producers and more consumers who will stop now — not later – the purchase of consumer goods of all kinds that use plastics. If this move gains support around the world, that would the start of a solution to this hazard of our times.